Country Jukebox Jury LPs: Courtney Marie Andrews and Chloe Jones

October 12, 2022

Courtney Marie Andrews – Loose Future

Courtney is a big name in American roots music. She was inspired by Lucinda Williams and brought out a book of verse in 2021. Her voice would fit snugly next to that of Laura Marling or Brandi Carlile, or indeed Big Thief, whose producer Sam Evian is behind the boards here. She’s on Fat Possum, the same label as The Black Keys and The Weather Station, making her the kind of act you can imagine graphic designers humming along to as Courtney’s music plays on BBC 6 Music.

This 10-track set begins with a gorgeous title track with plenty for Fleetwood Mac or Taylor Swift fans to admire (yep, this is American music). ‘I’ll keep pretending that I want you’ locates this album in the same tenor as Rumours or Blue by Joni Mitchell, who remains a key influence on what may be called Joniesque some day (we know it as Roots/Americana). First Aid Kit fans, patiently waiting for the duo’s own new album next month, will have their appetites sated by Loose Future.

Satellite, the big single, is hooky and tender, with Courtney’s vocals double-tracked, while Thinkin’ On You makes heartbreak sound glorious, with the melody in opposition to the lyric. You Do What You Want paints a mellifluous tableau, complete with lap steel guitar, of a man whom women forgive.

That song is indebted to Drunken Angel by Lucinda Williams to such an extent that Courtney has set the lyrics for the verses over that song’s chords. Maybe she’ll run them together in concert. She launched the album with two sets at Rough Trade stores in Bristol and Brick Lane and she will return to Europe in March 2023. A month-long tour will take in France, Germany, Scandinavia and the UK.

A highlight is sure to be the date at KOKO in Mornington Crescent, which will reverberate to songs like Let Her Go, a mood piece where Courtney hits some high notes and describes a manic-pixie-ish dream girl who is ‘an emotional Aries dancing to Tim McGraw’ and ‘in her past life she was a willow tree’.

There are plenty of maxims among the melodies and string accompaniment: ‘life is better without plans’ (Older Now); ‘I’ve gotten used to moving on’ (On The Line); ‘people like me think feelings are facts’ (These Are The Good Old Days, which opens in a car). Change My Mind opens with the line ‘I don’t recognize the way you see me’ and continues with the narrator telling us she is ‘looking for new ways to be let down’.

Me & Jerry, the album’s closing track, summarises the musical and lyrical aims of a lovely album with much to say about love, loss and the human condition. And isn’t that country music in a sentence?

Chloe Jones – Sundown

Chloe is so far off my radar that she didn’t make it into my Bubbling Under Top 40 Chart, with apologies. I had filled the Top 40 before the release at the end of September of the new EP, and before the announcement that Chloe had been nominated for BCMA Female Vocalist of the Year alongside Sarah Louise, Jade Helliwell, Kezia Gill and Emilia Quinn. Sorry!!

Chloe is from Manchester and her influences include Brandi Carlile, Fleetwood Mac and, topically, Courtney Marie Andrews, so I hope Chloe is enjoying Loose Future. The Mancunian launched the EP at the excellent Eagle Inn in Salford as part of a month of gigs around the North-West, hitting Chorlton and Congleton as well. She’s in the North-West country crew along with Gary Quinn and Jade Helliwell and, accordingly, has played Country on the Clyde and Buckle and Boots, both of which Gary programs.

Damsel came out in 2020, New Mexico in 2021. The former is the sort of country song Patsy Cline would have sung, where the narrator cries out from a hotel room in Guatemala City ‘wishing more than anything that you can be here with me’. The latter is a tender tune full of words like ‘wilderness’ and ‘white sands’, plus a warm cello line.

The acoustic ditty Big Man Says also has some excellent strings which enrich a song about love and being ‘more than friends’. Crocodile is a slinky tune to match its title, full of reverberating guitars and brushed drums. Giving Up The Ghost begins ‘Who are we? We are drifters…’ and there’s some delightful pedal steel to underscore Chloe’s vocals.

A wise booker would let Chloe open for Courtney. Will any wise booker read this?

Country Jukebox Jury LPs: Dailey & Vincent and Jim Lauderdale

October 12, 2022

Dailey & Vincent – Let’s Sing Some Country!

Check that exclamation mark! Produced by the great Paul Worley, Dailey & Vincent have put together a fine tribute to hillbilly music, interpreting 11 songs.

A version of Hillbilly Highway by Steve Earle contains some fine close harmony singing, while there’s some jubilant organ on You Rescued Me. There’s an appreciable stomp and some excellent vocal throws on Those Memories Of You, and a fine key change on Dig A Little Deeper in the Well. Feels Like That Again has both a euphoric melody and a basso profundo anchoring the song.

Vince Gill, whose status as a living country legend will grow with every passing year, provides three tunes for the project: Colder Than Winter (‘every time the sun sets I shed another tear’), If I Die A Drinkin’ and Young Man’s Town, a mournful ballad about Nashville. As for Message From The Farm, where ‘pigs won’t even wallow in the mud’ because the lady of the house is absent, it is a delight to hear a proper song about rural matters that doesn’t involve perfunctory references to getting up at dawn to plough the fields with a tractor.

I hope there’s an audience for this, and I hope the pair show up for Country2Country next year.

Jim Lauderdale – Game Changer

You know how someone like Daniel O’Donnell or Tom Jones keeps cranking out albums that their fanbase will always hear? Jim Lauderdale is like the country version of that. His tunes have been recorded by George Strait, Elvis Costello and Patty Loveless, and like Willie Nelson (a far better analogy but I’ll keep the lede as it is!!), he puts out an album a year, mostly on his Sky Crunch label.

Over 12 ditties, Jim reminds us of his talent for great country music. The songs are served well by his unadorned vocal style that makes him more a songwriter than a singer. Friends Again, with a gorgeous antiphonal riff in the chorus, sounds like it could have been recorded in 1962. Ditto Wishbone (great title), with fiddle and pedal steel underscoring Jim’s melancholy.

There’s romance in the grooves, as on Keep It Real, Game Changer (‘I’ve been waiting all my life for you!’) and Lightning Love (‘history and electricity was in the making). You’re Hoggin’ My Mind (great title) is a more uptempo tune saying much the same thing, while Let’s Make Some Memories seems to have a ukulele as a dominant instrument in an old-fashioned arrangement.

Our Happy Hour sees Jim ‘get drunk on you way too fast’, and the music shifts time signatures and tempos in a similarly hiccupping manner. With its themes of universal brotherhood, we’re All We’ve Got comes off like a Willie Nelson song. Ditto closing track I’ll Keep My Heart Open for You (‘I won’t ever lock the door’), which is a delightful ballad in the tradition of the genre Jim has made his life working in. Not a quaver is out of place on another fine collection.

Country Jukebox Jury LP: Everette – Kings of the Dairy Queen Parking Lot Side B

October 11, 2022

Back in 2020, I used to give rating out of five for new projects. I gave the first side of the duo’s two-sided release 5/5 calling them ‘authentically southern but very poppy’. Brent and Anthony from Kentucky have everything going for them, including a burgeoning UK fanbase.

I caught their set at The Long Road, which they followed by talking to a coterie of country critics milling around in the press area. They reprised their set from C2C, covering Man of Constant Sorrow and previewing songs from this second side.

With money from Broken Bow and production from Luke Laird, Everette have the best possible chance to succeed. Even better, they have some fine A-listers in the room with them while the songs came into being. Ross Copperman added his signature anthemic songwriting style to Run, which opens the project with a plea to a lady to ‘run right back to me’ when she is ready to do so.

Ryan Tyndell – who co-wrote Springsteen with Eric Church, an obvious influence on this project – worked on their single Gonna Be A Problem, which sounds like country radio in 2022 by production (bass drum stomp, explosion into the chorus), lyric (‘the reason I’m having trouble breathing!’) and melody, with spoken-sung verses that elide prettily into the chorus. It’s a winner.

The great Aaron Raitiere, who is so hot right now and has worked with Ashley McBryde on her Lindeville project, was there for three of them: Woo Hoo Hoo, a sort of modern-day work song which keeps the guys positive as they toil and includes a punchline (‘you can be the bread or you can be the toaster’); Wild Woman, which is a riff-driven barroom stomper; and (watch it, DJs) Shunk As Drit, a toe-tapper full of consonantal replacement, which isn’t reduced to just the song’s title, about laughing in the face of Armageddon which is almost a comedy song.

Bryan Simpson, who was in a band which once released a song called Harry Potter, was with Everette in the composition of She Got That From Me. It’s an excellent list song, if such a thing can exist, where a lady picks up various things from various other things (freckles from the Kentucky sun, temper from her Irish blood, style from Vogue Magazine) but her ‘heartache’ comes from her ex, voiced by the duo. I hope it gets the audience it deserves.

Chris DuBois brings his expertise to Make Me Want One, which opens with the image of a cigarette ‘rolling off your pretty red lips’, continues with an invitation to a Panic! At The Disco gig and has a come-on of a guitar part to echo the chorus lyric. Matt Jenkins helped them with closing track Get By, which rhymes ‘freight train/hurricane’ in its first couplet and becomes one of the many carpe diem songs with a singalong feel which are written in Music City to make money.

Everette make it sound tuneful and a third UK visit must be on the agenda for 2023.

Country Jukebox Jury LP: Ashley McBryde Presents Lindeville

October 10, 2022

Ashley McBryde has reminded folk that major-label artists can score a big win if they are allowed to do what they want. Inspired by songwriter Dennis Linde, who wrote Goodbye Earl and Bubba Shot The Jukebox, she has created a world populated by small-town characters.

This is almost a ‘what we did in our summer holidays’ project from Ashley, akin to The Highwomen. She has been joined by some of the best writers in town to create a world that could only be found in rural America. They include: Aaron Raitiere, who is hot right now; Connie Harrington, still best known for I Drive Your Truck; the peerless Brandy Clark; and Ashley’s mate Nicolette Hayford, who records as Pillbox Patti.

The ten tracks are interspersed with three interludes imagining jingles from pawnshops, diners and funeral homes (‘When you meet your maker, we’ll be your undertaker!’). The Missed Connection Section of the Lindeville Gazette sounds like something they’d do on A Prairie Home Companion, where author Garrison Keillor tells of the lives of Lake Wobegon as a sort of country version of Ambridge, home of The Archers.

The Girl In The Picture is a suitably vivid song with words and phrases like ‘cigarette hand’ and ‘tablecloth’. It has vocals by Patti/Nicolette, who will be a superstar. If These Dogs Could Talk is a waltz with Brandy on vocals (don’t forget Brandy wrote a song called Soap Opera which could fit snugly if a musical were based on Lindeville) while Play Ball has John and TJ Osborne doing their award-winning rootsy rock.

The song is full of wisdom (‘soak it in when you win’) and reminds me of any number of songs of that ilk, like Waitin’ on a Woman by Brad Paisley. John Osborne, who has learned a great deal from Jay Joyce’s eccentric corralling of musicians who include Ashley herself, is named as the producer but must also provide those guitar solos that run throughout the album. Jesus Jenny features vocals from Aaron lamenting Jenny’s hangover (‘can’t even cuss me right!’) and ‘praying that your demons go away’. The production includes some wah-wah guitar which mimic Jenny’s state of mind.

Gospel Night at the Strip Club has talk-sung vocals from Benjy Davis, the sixth member of the crew, who is ‘waiting for more sinners to show up’. He also asks whether you’d know Jesus ‘if he bought you a beer’ and there are massed hallelujahs which will be wonderful should the project go to the stage.

Caylee Hammack, who has flown under the radar in recent years after an impressive debut album, returns with a vengeance and brings her vocals to three tracks, joining Brandy and Patti/Nicolette: album opener Brenda Put Your Bra On, about catching a neighbour in a fight with his wife, is as fun as its title; When Will I Be Loved is a transcription of the Linda Ronstadt cover of the Phil Everly composition; while Bonfire At Tina’s has Ashley’s lead vocals answered by cries of ‘light it up!’ and a lyric which has the same emotional pull as many of Ashley’s songs about life in a small town. There’s even a string section in the middle to hammer home the pathos.

Ashley ends the album with the title track on which dogs are howling, the wind is blowing and the stars are out. Someone strums a mandolin and we have a parade of characters getting on with their lives. I would have moved this up the tracklist, or made it the ‘explainer’ track in the musical, but it ends the album with a flourish. Lindeville beats a Christmas project as a stopgap before a bigger album.

And, of course, a huge mazaltov for Ashley McBryde on her invitation to become an Opry member, extended by Garth Brooks, who loved her song Girl Goin’ Nowhere so much he covered it in concert.

UPDATE: As predicted, the show is coming to Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium in February 2023.

The UK Country Top 40 Bubbling Under Chart: Autumn 2022

October 8, 2022

The Bubbling Under Chart exists to highlight acts who didn’t quite make it into the UK Country Top 40 proper.

You can hear an audio version of this chart in two parts at the Mixcloud page.

Part One takes us from 40 to 16.

Part Two includes interviews with Celine Ellis, Luke Flear and True Strays, who are all in the top 15.

Hear every track in full in this Spotify playlist.

40 Between The Vines – All In

39 Fargo Railroad Company – Barroom Band

38 Lisa Wright – Ready Now

37 The Goudies – When This Is Over

36 Megan Rose – Cluedo

35 Noble Jacks – Last of the Wild

34 Hannah Paris – Only You

33 Emily Faye – When It Comes To Leaving

32 Chris Mossop – Candle In You Still Burns

31 Allie Marie Hunter – Bonnie & Clyde

30 Shannon Hynes – Woman’s Scorn

29 William The Conqueror – Cold Ontario

28 Tennessee Twin – Rewind

27 Emma Moore – Husbands or Kids

26 Backwoods Creek – Mama’s Prayers (ft Drew Dixon)

25 Harriet Rose – Love Me Like That

24 Alan Finlan – Passenger Seat

23 Holloway Road – Between Us

22 Danni Nicholls – The River

21 Roisin O’Hagan – Broken Wings

20 Jake Morrell – This House (live acoustic version)

19 The Jackson Line – Up In Flames

18 Kelsey Bovey – Vinyl

17 Rosey Cale – Secrets

16 Deeanne Dexeter – Blind Eye

15 Biddy Ronelle & The Bullets – Dark Side

14 Charlotte Young – Lonely In My Dreams

13 O&O – A Spark Away From Fire

12 Lucy Blu – Surrender

11 Celine Ellis – Leave The Light On

10 Luke Flear – Looks Country To Me

9 Legends of Country – Single Again

8 Our Atlantic Roots – Under the Sun

7 Poppy Fardell – Good Girl

6 Stevie O’Connor – That Dog Can Hunt

5 Joe Martin – Take Me Home Tonight

4 True Strays – Let Your Heart Lead The Way

3 Motel Sundown – Brake Lights

2 Paris Adams – The Good Ones (acoustic)

1 Lauren Housley – We’re Not Backing Down

Find a playlist of every track in full here.

Country Jukebox Jury EP: Jade Helliwell – Woman

October 7, 2022

This is a very important EP. Jade is the lass from Batley who quit her job as a teaching assistant to go full-time as a singer/songwriter. She is a regular performer at Buckle and Boots and finally got to tour as part of a double bill with Kezia Gill at the end of 2021. Kez is preparing an album and a headline tour of her own, while Jade is going out to promote this EP – her first in four years!! – in October. There are six dates including a homecoming show/engagement party in Batley on Saturday 15th.

It’s a great time to be involved in the UK country scene, which even has its own chart thanks to some berk who spotted a gap in the market (a Bubbling Under Top 40 is out now too). Jade is perched near the top of the UK Country Top 40 because of her status just under the A-List quartet of Ward Thomas, Twinnie, The Shires and The Wandering Hearts. Elles Bailey and Gary Quinn are also regulars in the Top 20, which Yola dominates every quarter.

Jade, however, is close to A-List status herself. Not just because her fiancé is the son of the chair of the British Country Music Association, which helps raise her profile within the fanbase of the genre. It’s because she’s really good at what she does, one of the best performers on the circuit who dresses to impress and has the voice to match. She has a packed set including singles like Stormchaser, Put It On You, Boom Tick and Telephone, and the EP includes five songs which she has been previewing in recent shows.

Woman I Am, written with Laura Oakes, has an itchy chorus and fine production to match the lyric which is 100% yaaas queen. Nothing But The Radio is another of those sex jams where the vocalist hopes to get hot and heavy. How fun must it be for Luke Thomas to play those riffs next to the woman he loves!

Lead Me On also fits nicely next to anything coming out of Nashville, a woman scorned who has had enough of being messed around with. Drink This Wine is a piano ballad which highlights Jade’s vocal talent – she has reined in the vibrato that made her name – although there are too many uses of the word ‘just’ as filler in the lyric.

Undercover opens with the line ‘you’ve got a special set of skills’ which sets the scene for a song which crams in a ton of words in the bridge before opening up to a hugely melodic chorus that also twists the title in a neat way. This proves that Jade can not only produce fine pop songs with a country feel but, should any visiting American act need some local support (as Priscilla Block and Tenille Arts recently discovered), then Jade would be the first pick.

Country Jukebox Jury LPs: Chris Canterbury and Caleb Caudle

October 7, 2022

Chris Canterbury – Quaalude Lullabies

‘A heart only breaks when you use it’ is a line in this 28-minute album’s opening track The Devil, The Dealer and Me, sung over double bass, keyboard and resonating guitar. This is a Difficult Album from Chris, a Louisianan who approaches songwriting like a conversation at a kitchen table.

Self-produced, this is a piece of art akin to the latest album by Andrew Combs. Fall Apart is an acoustic ballad that Bob Harris would love. It’s full of lyrics like ‘lonesome highway’ and ‘a pound of grass’ as Chris paints the portrait of a troubadour. Similar ideas come on Felt The Same, where our narrator realises the disconnect between the hopes of hometown folk and the reality of his profession: ‘There’s nothing in this world quite as lonesome as midnight on a highway you don’t know’. The guitar and organ are perfectly arranged to suit the song.

There are more songs set on the road. Sweet Maria is a ballad celebrating a lady singing along and ‘keeping time with the radio’, while Over The Line is a trucker anthem (‘Texarkana to Carolina’) where death cannot help but rear its head (‘Drive me home, take me over the line’).

Heartache For Hire continues the downbeat mood, as Chris offers himself as someone who will ‘cut you like a cold wind if you need someone to blame’. Kitchen Table Poet is a vivid portrait of a man Chris met who ‘could turn a phrase like an AM dial…’

Yellow Mama, written by Will Kimbrough, is in the same tenor as Nick Cave’s The Mercy Seat, with the protagonist set to be executed via electric chair (’10,000 volts running straight to my head’). The accordion is completely at odds with the lyric: ‘Have mercy on me’ is not the most obvious singalong but Chris sells it well. Back On The Pills echoes the theme with the narrator, who is buzzing in a motel room, asking for forgiveness for his sins with his soul ‘as black as asphalt’.

It is no wonder that Chris’s grandpa was a Baptist preacher, as there are a great deal of lessons to be learned from the characters on this album. If you’re missing Chris Stapleton, give Chris Canterbury a go.

Caleb Caudle – Forsythia

Another half-hour of musical power comes from Caleb Caudle, whose album Forsythia begins with a toetapper called I Don’t Fit In. It has everything I like in music: a bit of twang in the guitars, some odd chords (thirds and sevenths rather than just ones, fours and fives) and a self-effacing lyric sung with panache. Bob Harris played it on The Country Show recently in between songs by Charlie Daniels and Twinnie.

Every review is likely to note that it was recorded at Cash Cabin with production by the keeper of JR’s flame John Carter Cash. Instrumentalists like Jerry Douglas and Sam Bush offer their A-List talents (actually AAA-List as they’re the best of the best), while vocals come from Carlene Carter and Elizabeth Cook. Hikes during the pandemic inspired the sound of the album, which takes its title from the yellow forsythia bushes Caleb would walk past. There’s a track on the album also called Forsythia,

His rootsy voice, which reminds me of the croon of Sean McConnell, does the songs justice. Whirligigs is about an 83-year-old man who sells items on the roadside. Jerry Douglas’ effortless solo on the dobro is like a breeze on a river and a listener shouldn’t miss the second verse where our protagonist buys an ice cream cone for his late wife. This is great songwriting full of pathos and verve.

Crazy Wayne, notionally a song about heartbreak, is driven by the lyrical hook ‘it must not be a coincidence’, while Sam Bush does his mandolin thing.

Through My Hands (‘sometimes a little warmth is hard to find’) is a gentle ballad which sounds like Alison Krauss covering a John Prine song. Tears of Savannah is a well-constructed bluegrass song with a sombre lyric and arrangement. Texas Tea has a brilliant chorus which includes a line about how ‘some mountains are worth climbing’. Caleb’s narrator was ‘born for the chase’ as he is surrounded by ‘night as dark as Texas tea’.

Shattered Glass has some great imagery to underline how Caleb can ‘handle heaviness’: rollercoasters slowing down, the Western wind blowing weathervanes, flickering lights and the burial of pride and hatchets. The album ends with Red Bank Road, a track which would sound great on a hiking trip through the land around Cash Cabin.

This piece was brought to you by the letter C!

Country Jukebox Jury LP: Kameron Marlowe – We Were Cowboys

October 6, 2022

A few weeks ago, I used Dylan Scott as an example of how to create a commercial country album. I’m now going to explain the Cookie Cutter approach to commercial country music using Kameron Marlowe’s 16-track album.

Poor Kameron has done nothing wrong, by the way, and he can definitely sell emotion through his voice. It is not his fault that Luke Combs has added a second date at the O2 Arena to his world tour next year, meaning 30,000 people are believed to be keen on seeing him perform. It is our fault, really, that he has made a traditional-leaning album which tries to recapture the spirit of a Luke Combs album.

Giving You Up first came out in June 2019. A 100%-er with music and lyrics by Kameron, it takes four familiar chords and a boring beat to underscore a song about telling an ex to get the hell away from him. It will appeal to the 18-34 streaming demographic who have lapped up Combs and Wallen in recent years. There is a danger that Music Row are flooding the market with Combsalikes and Wallengangers, but such is the way of Nashville.

Burn Em All, with its enormous guitars, also makes it over from his 2020 EP (though there’s no place for a brilliant standalone single Tequila Talking). Girl On Fire smoulders as Kameron sings of lost love, while he laments the inevitable on Does It Have To Be Over. ‘There ain’t nothing like a girl saying goodbye’ is the hook on Saying Goodbye, which is filler, while there Ain’t Enough Whiskey to help him get over a break-up.

The title track begins the album because it needs to underline how Kameron is a country artist. Cowboys are creatures of rural America, and everybody used to be a child: hence this reminiscin’ song where Clint Eastwood and John Wayne are namechecked and the chorus amps up thanks to Kameron singing from his throat. It’s followed by Country Boy’s Prayer, where Kameron throws his voice in a Combsian manner and allows me to resurrect country bingo: Charlie Daniels, church on Sunday, back roads, Bridgestone tyres, ‘the family farm’, soldiers, Grandpa and tractors are all here.

There is the usual share of A-Listers getting cuts to keep their publishers happy. Casey Beathard was there for the swampy blues of Money Ain’t $hit and Country Boy’s Prayer, while his son Tucker was in the room for Over Now, a peace offering from Kameron after an argument with his lady. The ballad Steady Heart (‘we go together like a gravel road and AM radio’) was written with Jessi Alexander and Craig Wiseman popped the jubilant Long Way Down on his Big Loud shelf.

Tyler Farr, of all people, is a secret weapon here. A man who took an Old Dominion song called A Guy Walks Into A Bar to the top of the charts in the mid-2010s is present on several tracks on this album, which at 59 minutes is far, far too long. They include the catchy This Old Town, where a fiddle answers Kameron’s voice in the chorus.

There are a pair of tracks written with the Warren Brothers, who always seem to be there whatever fork in the road commercial country music takes; they wrote Red Solo Cup, Lights Come On, Drink To That All Night, Felt Good on my Lips and Highway Don’t Care, which are all distinctive songs and all number one smashes. Can Kameron get to the top with Fool Me Again, a meditative tune where Kameron mourns a lost love with whiskey and Keith Whitley, who is fast becoming the new Waylon, a go-to country star to be namechecked.

The Warrens also helped Kameron write Granny’s Got A Garden, which is dedicated to G’maw Jan and reminds me of plenty of Tim McGraw’s catalogue. There’s even some whistling, which is lovely to hear in tandem with a mandolin.

Runnin’ Out On You is the showstopper on the album, a writer’s round-type confessional which Kameron didn’t write but gives a great reading of. Good voices will always rise to the top in Music City, and whenever they get there they will have to play the game. At least ‘the game’ in 2022 is making the sort of country that has pedal steel, fiddle and depth, but all I can hear is share prices staying high by giving people what they want.

Country Jukebox Jury EPs: Essex County, Valerie Ponzio and The Outlaw Orchestra

October 4, 2022

Essex County EP

The Bass brothers – singer/drummer Nate, guitar wizard Mark and rhythm player Kieran – landed on my radar with So Good, a radio-ready ballad which sounded like Kip Moore. Fed up of the TV talent show culture in the UK, they moved from Essex to Tennessee in 2015 and thus became familiar with how to get that sort of sound which would appeal to folk who liked rockin’ country music. They even teamed up with Ron Fair, who was instrumental in getting Christina Aguilera onto the radio in 2000.

Unable to work their material live during the pandemic, the trio had to wait until 2022 to display their brilliance at both Country2Country and Nashville Meets London. Nate played drums with one hand and held the microphone with the other, while Mark tripped over his own foot in his eagerness to impress.

They enjoyed blasting through the effervescent Fire It Up, the impact track from the self-titled project, and a power ballad called You In Tennessee where Nate hits some lovely falsetto notes while taking a tour of the state (‘They call it Wyoming but tell me why you had to go!’)

Waiting On Me is a heartbreak ballad where Nate calls out to a woman ‘up there’, asking if people have ‘wings of gold’ in heaven. Kieran takes lead on Can’t Find Me (‘without you’), sounding a lot like a boyband vocalist, with less gruffness than his brother and a yearning in his vocal (‘now I’m crying, feel like dying’).

Long Way Home opens with a spindly guitar part which is followed by Nate waking up in a hotel room while on the road; he later reveals he’s ‘missing them London bars’. The chorus is driven by the tick of a clock and some contemporary production, which proves the band can be good on record as well as onstage.

Valerie Ponzio – Frontera EP

Part of the Color Me Country line-up at The Long Road this September, Valerie won the unofficial Best Dressed award thanks to a colourful outfit that was perfectly chosen for the occasion.

The EP has been rolled out one track at a time this year, concluding with the fourth song Desert Rain, a languid ballad with an excellent vocal performance. Orale is a pop-country come-on sung in English whose Spanish title sounds great as a hook. I Could Fall In Love, conversely, is a magnificent ballad full of brushed drums and echoing steel guitar; it was a hit for Selena, a Latin popstar whose reputation has grown since her shocking death in the mid-1990s when she was on the cusp of a breakthrough in the Anglophone world. Valerie does her memory justice and I hope she covers more, especially the magnificent Bidi Bom.

Just a Bordertown was a highlight of her Long Road set. Valerie sings that her home on the Texas/Mexico border is so much more than a mere dot on a map: it taught her how to work hard, love, pray and ‘never be ashamed of the people who raised me’. This will resonate with plenty of folk and there’s a great line about ‘Circle K Saturdays’.

Gracias y mas, por favor, señora!

The Outlaw Orchestra – Back Under The Covers

The trio who impressed me at Buckle and Boots this summer return with another covers project, adding five more interpretations of rock songs to the six from 2020. They tackled tunes by Waylon Jennings, The Animals, Dolly Parton and Buffalo Springfield there, and they waste no time impressing the listener with a bluegrassy rock take on John Lennon’s Come Together, where three men make the noise of nine (as the band name suggests).

Itchycoo Park is as pretty as Joe Walsh’s Rocky Mountain Way is rocking, proving that the guys can do soft as well as heavy (check out a smart few bars of drummer Ryan on his own).

There aren’t many bands who can tackle tunes by The Band (Cripple Creek, with a barking finish) and Motorhead, whose song Iron Fist takes away the pummelling drums and replaces them with banjo and slide guitar. Although the trio are a live band foremostly, this EP will get the haemoglobin going too.

Country Jukebox Jury LP: Maddie & Tae – Through The Madness

October 4, 2022

The last proper album from the two now-married ladies was a compilation of three previous EPs. Through The Madness has arrived this year in two parts and, probably for the sake of completeness, I didn’t write up my thoughts on the first volume back in January so I’ll treat the album in its entirety.

There are 16 tracks which, as you might expect from an act targeted at the 18-34 demographic, deal with love and womanhood. Jimmy Robbins brings his magical pop production to the album, assisted by guitar wizard Derek Wells. For the vocals, as ever, Maddie takes lead and Taylor finesses it with some higher harmonies.

One of my songs of 2022 is Grown Man Cry, which also has an excellent one-shot video worth seeing. I love the four-chord loop, broken by a seventh chord (D-flat) just before the chorus kicks in, and the gang vocals in the chorus are tremendous. Another poppy tune on the first side (or volume) is Woman You Got, where the girls sing of being ‘not perfect, I’m a perfector’.

A lot of the songs mimic what’s going on in the LA pop world. They include the come-on song What It’s Like Loving You and the ballad Madness, which sounds giddy and full of affection for the girls’ partners. Strangers is full of intimacy, with its sweeping arrangement underlining the love felt by a couple: ‘How were we ever strangers?’ is a great line and the song has deservedly been streamed millions of times.

Ryan Hurd joins the trio in the writing of Well In Your World, a lovely tune where the girls remember an ex fondly and follows on from the breakup anthem Wish You The Best. Barry Dean and Luke Laird bring their world-weariness to Don’t Make Her Look Dumb, a piece of advice to a guy not to play around with a woman (‘if you don’t love her, leave her’).

These Tears is a pathos-drenched acoustic ballad written with the super duo Jon Green and Laura Veltz. Oddly it’s not part of their live set yet, but I predict fans will demand its presence. Liz Rose and Lori McKenna co-wrote The Other Side, on which Lori also appears: it’s another certified Maddie & Tae ballad full of imagery and pathos: ‘There’s strength in the weakness and light in the pieces’ will comfort many listeners going through grief or pain.

The songs which got a push in advance of the second volume of the album were Spring Cleaning and Every Night Every Morning. On the former, Marie Kondo gets a namecheck in a quirky kiss-off which is 100% yaaas although it nicks the ‘sleeping like a queen in my kingsize bed’ that Lady A used on Heart Break; on the latter, Maddie sings of wanting to ‘get drunk on a weekday’ and grow old together to the most anodyne MOR country backing music.

Similar production choices mark Drinking To Remember: Maddie doesn’t usually drink whiskey but she does in honour of an old flame (‘take the edge of letting go’). Girl After My Own Heart is a ‘u ok hun’ sort of song where the girls recall their song Bathroom Floor by giving advice to the sort of man whom they would be drinking to remember. The sequencing is good.

The sad portrait Watching Love Leave will chime with listeners who had also seen love leave, while the girls sigh on More Than Maybe and ask, over a mostly one-note melody: ‘Maybe I loved you too much…it’s making me crazy’. The lyrical hook (‘I deserve more than maybe’) is the best thing about the song and it makes the listener have empathy for the narrator.

It is lovely that Maddie & Tae can exist in such a male-dominated industry, but their voices deserve a bigger audience. Perhaps March 2023 in the UK would suit them. This month we’ll find out if they’ll be part of C2C.

Country Jukebox Jury LPs: Will Hoge and A Thousand Horses

October 3, 2022

Will Hoge – Wings On My Shoes

The man who bought some nice furniture for writing Even If It Breaks Your Heart for Eli Young Band is a solo artist of some repute. Will Hoge writes heartland rock songs which tick all the boxes in what I personally like: huge choruses, melodic guitar lines and lyrics delivered with panache and a bit of grit. Self-produced, it’s on his own label Edlo.

The album’s opening track John Prine’s Cadillac (‘I’m smiling like a sinner on a month without Sundays’) is a perfect start to this new collection, Will’s thirteenth, which is happily in the tradition of the late patron saint of singer-songwriters. Will remains a fine guide for those trying to write rock’n’roll music and he knows his heritage.

It’s Just You begins with a plea to take Beatles, The Band and Rolling Stones records from his life and has something not many songs have nowadays: dynamic interest, as it builds from a quiet middle section to the fortissimo final chorus.

The love song You Are The Place is bellowable and evokes a great mood of going ‘back and forth across the interstate line’. There is a key change, then a return to the main key, just to see if people are listening. The album’s second side opens with the explosive bar band song All I Can Take, where Will opens his lungs and shouts about protagonists who read Hemingway and go to their jobs in insurance while trying not to fall off the treadmill.

It’s not all fist-punching rock’n’roll music. He’s reminiscin’ on Ain’t How It Used To Be, where ‘you do just like your mama and daddy did’, and strumming through his heartache on Birmingham. Queenie is a portrait of his strong grandma Maybelline who ‘cussed like a sailor’ but would cry as well, a fine influence on young Will. Patton Oswalt has said that love is accepting that one of you will have to bury the other one, which seems to be the inspiration for the meditative The Last One to Go.

The album’s six-minute track Dead Man’s Hand is a movie miniature that someone will make into a short film. I won’t even tell you what it’s about, because it’s easier just to listen to it, but I like the line ‘“I’ve got a plan”…the famous last words spoken by every desperate man’. The album ends with the toe-tapper Whose God Is This, which imagines a bar patronised by Gandhi, Mozart, Buddha, Zeus and Jesus, as well as what we imagine is a patriotic American who needs to leave.

The barman is called John. John Prine could have written that song, which is perhaps the highest and most obvious praise I can give for one of his apostles.

A Thousand Horses – Broken Heartland

In 2015, when I started paying attention to contemporary country music, I was impressed by the two-chord singalong This Ain’t No Drunk Dial. The band who released it were A Thousand Horses, who had a big hit with another two-chord singalong called Smoke. The album was called Southernality and it hit the same beats that The Cadillac Three did. Both bands were on the same label, Big Machine, which felt like splitting the market.

Unsurprisingly, while TC3 headlined The Long Road in 2022, A Thousand Horses are independent and, SEVEN YEARS after Southernality, have followed up their Dave Cobb-produced debut, albeit having put out an EP and sundry singles in between. The title track kicks us off with a bang and locates us in a musical world full of riffs and melodies, and the rootsy Another Mile follows it. That track is nothing Jason Aldean hasn’t done 100 times before, but vocalist Michael Hobby uses his instrument well.

Since they are buddies with Zac Brown’s crew, it makes sense that Niko Moon co-wrote the waltz Every Time You Love Me, where Michael finds salvation in human form which has replaced the alcohol and smoky bars. There is a ‘survival/revival’ rhyme in the second verse, which prepares us for the gospel backing vocals in the song’s final minute.

Jon Nite co-wrote the smouldering Starting Fires, which opens with an image of a couple feeling each other’s skin and ends on an unresolved chord. The reminiscin’ song When I Hear Your Name has a melody which reminds me of a Chris Young song, which makes sense because his producer Corey Crowder was there to help the band write it. It’s very middle of the road, as is Gone, a weepie with one of many fine guitar solos on the album.

Jonathan Singleton was there for both the title track (which is also co-credited to the late Andrew Dorff) and Don’t Stop (‘breaking my heart…messing me up’), which is saturated with the same power-rock sound he helped Luke Combs get on his recent album, although Luke would never encourage his woman to smoke his cannabis. Not any more, at least.

Lee Thomas Miller was in the room for Define Me and Never Liked The Rain. The former sounds an awful lot like a corporate rock song by Creed or 3 Doors Down, complete with the mysterious line ‘I was static in the noise’, while the latter is a country power ballad. The album ends with the song Carry Me, a bluesy jam that is far more impactful than a lot of the MOR country on an album which will be better in a sweaty club than on record.

Country Jukebox Jury LP: Little Big Town – Mr Sun

September 30, 2022

The story of Little Big Town involved plenty of false starts, a lot of success and a long victory lap. The quartet are big enough to support Eagles on a Hyde Park date, play a headline slot at Country2Country and fill the Royal Albert Hall, thanks to evergreen hits like Pontoon, Girl Crush and Boondocks. Taylor Swift also gave them Better Man, her song about Calvin Harris, which is a weird Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.

The youngest member of the quartet is 48-year-old Phillip, which puts the band in the sort of bracket as Legacy Artists whose days on country radio are over. This frees up their creativity since they aren’t chasing hits but are looking for songs to stick into a live setlist around the old faithful. Recently, for instance, they played a show which added Hell Yeah, a song that is the complete opposite of what you think it is: in spite of the whistling hook, narrator Phillip has been ‘going through hell, yeah’.

The band have produced this album themselves, which saves on costs when you’re paying a quartet, albeit one where two members, Jimi and Karen, are putting money into the same college fund for their kids. The formula works by now: the band get help from their friends to craft harmony-soaked Adult Contemporary pop songs which are imbued by living and working in the little big town of Nashville. Then they fit them into a live set around Boondocks, Girl Crush and Pontoon.

As is contractually obligatory by now, the Love Junkies (Hillary Lindsey, Lori McKenna and Liz Rose but you know that) join the girls to work their magic on Three Whiskeys and the Truth and Something Strong. Both are heartbreak songs where drink numbs the pain, expertly communicated by Karen, and I wonder if a man in a suit would have only allowed one of these to make an LBT album ten years ago. It must be the case that the band are older than the suits these days, and all the better for it.

Dan Tashian returns to write the title track of this album, sung by Jimi and featuring all the magic chords Dan usually puts in his compositions to make it sounds like he wrote it in 1972 in Laurel Canyon. Fellow long-time traveller Sean McConnell gifts them One More Song, which opens with an image of packing boxes and ‘dancing around the hurt and the pain’. Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne bring their golden touch to the excoriating and sad Whiskey Colored Eyes (‘I guess I like the burn…I’ll let you get me high’).

Foy Vance, best known as a friend of Ed Sheeran’s and a favourite of many songwriters who appreciate the craft, was in the room for album closer Friends of Mine. Amid lyrics about storms and hardship, there is advice to ‘take courage’ in this crazy world. It’s almost country gospel, though the squealing guitars push it towards power ballad territory, and it would segue nicely into or from a song like Sober.

There are plenty of uptempo tracks here to balance out the ballads, any of which may fill the ‘Happy Tune’ slot in the band’s setlist if they want to retire Day Drinkin’, Wine Beer Whiskey or Stay All Night. There’s the singalong opening pair of All Summer and Better Love, the country disco duo of Song Back (sung by Karen) and Heaven Had A Dance Floor (with lead vocals from Kimberly) and the itchy, catchy Gold, written with the great Luke Dick. It brilliantly rhymes ‘sombrero/Cuervo’.

Jimi wrote the words and music for Rich Man (‘without a lick of money’), a song about God and family which seems obligatory on a country album. Last Day On Earth might well be sung a cappella, although the album version has some drums and guitars underscoring a tender love song (‘ashes to ashes, dust to dirt’) which actually reminds me of British duo Two Ways Home.

God Fearing Gypsies is all about time passing. It begins with ‘the golden days of being young in the summer are gone’, perfectly capturing the USP of Little Big Town. Different Without You is an outside write by Corey Crowder and Jordan Schmidt which they must have thought sounded like LBT when they got to the chorus.

Who knows which acts are going to sing this sort of tune after LBT have completed their farewell tour…

Alyssa Bonagura, The Slaughtered Lamb, September 28

September 29, 2022

This was Alyssa Bonagura’s first London headline show, after a smattering of support slots for other artists. Like Nicole Kidman, she has one foot in the UK and the other in Nashville and is a frequent visitor to Britain. She was introduced by a man called John, who was a key figure in the development of her career and helped her win a scholarship to LIPA. He sat at the back of the packed Slaughtered Lamb and beamed with pride. There was also a table of people who had driven down from Norwich.

First, Sally and Steve aka Gasoline & Matches opened the evening with a set full of harmonies and mighty acoustic guitar solos. Damn You was an excellent poppy song which was rather affected by a loud bloke at the bar who had not learned the etiquette of a songwriters’ night and would later literally stumble from the room knocking the drink out of Sally’s hand. That doesn’t seem fair given that G&M had given us a country reading of Livin’ on a Prayer as well as a Lady A-sounding new single.

Alyssa has an enviable catalogue and played tracks from her 2012 album Love Hard and 2016’s Road Less Traveled. They included Warrior, a ‘fight song’ written for a friend going through medical issues, and Rebel, which Sally requested after Alyssa told the crowd to shout out what they wanted to hear. She wrote I Make My Own Sunshine on a ukulele in Liverpool; in one of those crazy stories artists can tell when things work out, it ended up on a Steven Tyler album where the ukulele part was played by ‘the best ukulele player on Maui!’

She has also had songs cut by Jana Kramer (the tender Circles which made Top 40 on country radio) and Jessie James Decker, who is currently competing on the American version of Strictly; I Do contained a glorious chord progression and a delightful lyric about the salvation of love.

Alyssa had tuned her guitar down two full steps, which meant her sparkly capo made an appearance on most songs, while she was joined for several songs by guitarist Steve. That isn’t Steve from G&M but a more swarthy figure who, bizarrely, studied physics at uni and was cheered on by his old course mates! The pair starred in the video for Alyssa’s recent radio-friendly single Other Side of the World, so it was excellent to see them on the same stage. The pair of Paper Airplane and reminiscin’ song Last Night in December, written with Sam Ellis and Jon Nite, were understated gems.

At various parts of the evening, she sounded like Sheryl Crow or Joni Mitchell but Alyssa can also do pop-punk. Her own song When You’re Gone led nicely into an impromptu version of Avril Lavigne’s I’m With You. She then pulled a friend out of the audience who happened to be Jess from the folk trio The Staves, who harmonised to gorgeous effect on Heavy on My Mind. New Wings will remain a crowd favourite because of its riff, doubled by Alyssa’s vocals, and future smash Love You Like That introduced a singalong element into proceedings.

It might feature on the long-delayed follow-up to Road Less Traveled, which might well prove John’s words that ‘the best is yet to come’. If it’s this good already, Alyssa could be scarily good by 2023.

A final thought. Every American act should stop off at The Slaughtered Lamb or a room of similar size which can hold 80 or 90 absolute maximum: a relaxed ‘Evening With…’ performance where collaboration, singalong and camaraderie trumps any promotional pushes.

Country Jukebox Jury LP: Alexander Ludwig – Highway 99

September 28, 2022

In May 2021, Alexander released a self-titled EP which featured songs which reminded me of ‘Kenny Chesney singing Jason Aldean songs’, all the more pertinent because producers Kurt and Tully both play in Aldean’s band.

The album begins with Sunset Town, an Aldeanish tune about love and stuff that was also on that EP. Other songs making it over from EP to LP include: Summer Crazy, basically a rewrite of Summertime; carpe diem song Love Today, which has a nice line about ‘a fresh coat of paint’; How It Rolls, which describes true love as ‘honey off of your tongue’; and Malibu Blue, which compares a girl to ‘the brightest star on the boulevard’. This reminds us that Alexander’s day job is as an actor in, among other shows, Vikings.

Let Me Be Your Whiskey, which closes the album, was a standalone single from 2020 and sums up the musical sound of the album. Over a smouldering guitar part, Alexander sings about ‘something strong to forget about someone gone’. It sounds like he’d go down as smoothly as old Jim Beam.

The 10 new songs build on themes from the EP. Faded On Me, written by the A-List trio of Jon Nite, Ross Copperman and Josh Osborne, made its way to Alexander from the big shelf of songs. It hits all the commercial country beats: nagging riff, a narrator whose ‘true north is Tennessee’ and a melodic chorus that includes nouns like ‘town’, ‘heart’, ‘shots’, ‘girls’ and ‘heartache’.

That’s The Life I Want actually uses the line ‘Couldn’t dream it up in Hollywood’ to describe the sort of idyll that country folk live, while Rough Around The Edges sounds like a TV theme tune for a show about small-town folk. Like She Wanted To is an innocent love song set at a riverbank where the heroine of the song has both alcohol and agency.

201 Melrose Avenue is a midtempo thinkin’ song where our narrator deliberates calling an old flame but never goes through with it. Can’t Outrun You is another moving-on song with a rockier feel which reminds the listener that ‘there’s nothing faster than a memory’. Ditto Back, a song which has been written hundreds of times, not least I Go Back by Kenny Chesney; there’s a nice line about Alexander not getting his jean jacket back, but it’s a songwriting exercise with an Adult Contemporary Country arrangement.

If You Don’t I Do has a nagging melody and a lyric about having a good time, and That Kinda Love is a horny chugger. It is one of a number of songs that mentions dust, roads and having the ‘windows down’. After You is a beautiful tune which deserves a wide audience, as Alexander sighs that every woman will not come close to her.

The album sounds country and will please those fans who live in either Aldean Nation or No Shoes Nation. This is like a turnpike album, one which is adjacent to the main thoroughfare where Chesney and Aldean live: Turnpike Country.

Ka-Ching…With Twang – Pop-Country from Breland and Kelsea Ballerini

September 27, 2022

Breland – Cross Country

Daniel Breland from New Jersey, the son of two ministers who turned down a place at music school to study business, released his debut album on Atlantic Records at the start of September 2022. The label surely signed him on account of his way with melody and harmony. Keith Urban wrote a couple of tracks with him including Out The Cage, and the UK took to him when he came over for Country2Country 2022. It matters a great deal that he is non-white, but this album should be judged on its own merit.

Boldly, it does not include either the earworm My Truck, which was one of six tracks on an impressive debut EP released in 2020, or his number one Beers On Me, a collaboration with Hardy and Dierks Bentley.

It does have appearances from Ingrid Andress, Lady A, Thomas Rhett, Keith Urban and Mickey Guyton (who is on the title track), who should all push their fanbases on to Breland’s work. One can also include Shania Twain as a collaborator, given the way Breland’s song Natural rewrites (and credits) Man I Feel Like A Woman to essentially become ‘Man! Look at that woman!’ There is more than one key change.

The Ingrid collaboration Here For It opens the album. It reminds me, with its clapping and major-key melody, of the theme from TV cartoon Arthur, especially with the pair singing of telling each other about their problems because ‘misery loves company’. Praise The Lord, a nice ditty written with TR, is one of the most optimistic songs released this year, and the Lady A duet Told You I Could Drink (‘cos you pushed me to the brink’) proves that Breland can appeal to a country radio crowd too.

Keith Urban appeared on Radio 2 around the time My Truck was zooming up the charts and bigged up the young writer. Throw It Back has fiftysomething Keith cutting loose alongside Breland on a pop-trap tune that will sound great in one of those Lower Broadway clubs to get hen parties to buy drinks. ‘If you sexy and you know it make it clap!’ only has one kind of audience.

Six writers including LA pop chap Sean Douglas were there for the hooky-as-hell Thick, a song with a heavy beat targeted at folk with ample posteriors (‘Shout out to Lizzo!!’). The bouncy party song County Line, full of alcohol and Lynryd Skynyrd, has eight credits including Ernest and Sam Hunt as well as Breland’s sibilant pair of producers (get ready): Sam Sumser and Sean Small! The mix of processed beats, hiphop cadences and Sam Hunt-type melodies is attractive and very contemporary.

Ryan Hurd drops by to co-write Happy Song, a reminiscin’ song full of regret, while For What It’s Worth is a rewrite of Someone Like You. Growing Pains is a song of self-examination where our narrator learns to overcome life’s troubles; it also uses one of my favourite lyrical motifs, the ‘mama told me’ motif. Good For You, meanwhile, is a showstopper full of autobiography.

Don’t Look At Me – which is completely genre agnostic as per the reference to Prince and The Rolling Stones in the same couplet – has a fine melody and the album’s best chorus, which I hope doesn’t get lost in its place as Track 13 of 14. Final track Alone At The Ranch summarises the album’s mission statement, with Breland’s voice swooping to the top of his range and a syncopated melody drawing the listener in. It helps that it’s a slow jam full of wordplay.

The future is bright for Daniel Breland.

Kelsea Ballerini – Subject To Change

How quickly things can turn. Our Kelsea was ‘unapologetically in love’ two albums ago, but the rollout of album four is dominated by the surprise news of the breakdown of her marriage to Morgan Evans, who came to London this summer and sung all those songs he had written about her. He’s going to have to get some new songs, as Kelsea has.

She is in a tough position: she’s not an activist singer or mummy like Maren Morris, nor a twangin’ newcomer like Lainey Wilson or a traditionalist like Carly Pearce. She is in danger of being yesterday’s news, which makes Subject To Change an interesting listen. She launches it at Radio City Music Hall in New York, where she played to fans already familiar with her story via social media and such.

As if to perfectly hit the middle of the Pop/Country Venn Diagram, which was a theme of her self-titled third album, Subject To Change is co-produced by Shane McAnally (Mr Nashville) and Julian Bunetta, Mr Los Angeles who shaped the sound of first One Direction then of Thomas Rhett.

‘I was like oh my God!’ introduces I Guess Thay Call It Fallin’, a breakup song set to the same sort of poppy production that marked her debut album. Jimmy Robbins was in the room for Walk in the Park, which mentions both LA and Colorado in the first verse and has a fluttering chorus that reminds me of Shane’s work with Kacey Musgraves, who is also not a ‘walk in the park’.

I Can’t Help Myself moves from A to B to D, perhaps to indicate Kelsea’s flibbertigibbety nature, while If You Go Down (I’m Goin’ Down Too) is 100% Dixie Chicks thanks to its mandolin and fiddle arrangement. Love Is A Cowboy reminds us that Kelsea is from Tennessee, with ‘El Dorado and John Wayne’ present in the verse, while she throws her voice so it has that Hank Williams catch just before the final chorus.

It’s the clearest indication of what Kelsea is trying to do, thanks to working with both McAnally and Bunetta. Muscle Memory does much the same, with a singalong chorus full of ‘uh-huhs’ and a catch-up with an old friend in the verse, which reminds me of Thinkin’ About You, one of the biggest hits on country radio in the last year.

The single sent to radio to prepare fans for the album was the fluffy filler Heartfirst. That track and the title track were co-written by a woman fast becoming a sort of mother figure of Nashville, Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild. It opens with a Britney-like ‘yeah yeah’ vocal hook and a processed beat; the chorus is pure pop, while Kelsea thanks God and takes it ‘day by day’.

I wonder if You’re Drunk, Go Home, which features Carly Pearce and Kelly Clarkson, will get a push, especially given how Kelly has just taken over Ellen’s slot on mid-afternoon TV. Think of the synergy!! It’s a fine addition to Now That’s What I Call Bachelorette Party and is perfect to follow a Shania tune on Lower Broadway. There’s a nice reference to George Dickel whiskey which they perhaps paid for, much as a Silverado appears in another tune.

Eight of the 15 tracks were written with Alysa Vanderheym, a graduate of Nashville’s Belmont University whose big copyright is Talk You Out Of It, a slow jam by Florida Georgia Line. Weather reminds me of Lindsay Ell’s rapid-fire, hooky pop; Ashley Gorley helps the pair on The Little Things, which sounds like a pop/rock smash from 1997 and might be a future single, while pop writer Sasha Sloan joined them for Universe, a thinker of a song which will get fans illuminating the arenas with their phones.

Doin’ My Best sounds like an Instagram post in song (the second verse even mentions an iPhone!), with some clapping percussion and steel guitar underscoring mentions of therapy and how ‘showing up is good enough for me’. I expect every review will mention Halsey, whom Kelsea does not mention by name (‘I put ‘em on track four’). I really thought it a strange move for The Other Girl to be such a big single to push her third album, which was rather buried by the pandemic.

Marilyn is a 100%-er with music and lyrics by Kelsea, always a sign that this is An Important Song. Kelsea has realised Ms Monroe was a victim of the male gaze and a patriarchal society. It’s actually quite banal but I hope she gets to talk about celebrity while promoting album four.

The album concludes with What I Have, as country as the day is long. I wish she had plumped for one or the other, because she just seems as indecisive as ever, but such is the goal for Black River Entertainment to appeal to as wide an audience as possible who will pick and choose according to their tastes.

One Night in Texas, Radlett Centre, September 22

September 22, 2022

The village of Radlett is home to a large Jewish community, many of who are descended from Polish and German immigrants. There’s a phrase in Yiddish, which is a mishmash of those languages and Hebrew, which immediately came to mind as the music began in this tour de force of country music: ‘Mach Schau!‘

The Beatles were yelled to ‘mach schau’ when in Hamburg, and plenty of performers know that they’ve got to ‘put on a show!’ when a crowd demands it. The ten musicians onstage, many of whom double as the band for One Night in Dublin, each showcased fine showmanship and musicianship over the course of two hour-long sets that ticked every box. They also remembered to smile with their eyes and teeth, lest anyone forget that they were taking us out of our troubles and over to Texas.

In country music, you get laughed out of town if you can’t play. The band members all have their moment in the spotlight to prove their chops, with impressive solos from Matt Carr on guitar, Trevor Brewis on drums and the multipurpose Tim Howard, who brought out banjo and dobro in various spots during the evening. In a nice touch, the male members of the band were dressed in a uniform of checked shirts and cowboy hats.

Middi Murphy was our bandleader for the evening and, despite a very poor joke about a drunkard and a preacher, was on form. A fine vocalist who led the audience by the hand, Middi took lead on Friends in Low Places, where he sang the alternate version of the second verse, got his tongue around Chattahoochee, and was note-perfect on the Don Williams ballad She’s In Love with a Rodeo Man. Middi also brought out the mandolin for Steve Earle’s Copperhead Road – like Ziggy Stardust, he played it left hand – then chucked the instrument to their stage manager and ‘Pot Noodle purchaser’ Phil.

There were also two ‘girl singers’, to use a term that died in about 1985. Deeanne Dexeter, whose own music is worth a listen, sang crowd pleasers like 9 to 5, Suds in the Bucket and She’s In Love With The Boy. Best of all was a brilliant contribution to Past The Point of Rescue, a duet with Middi that was one of the standout songs of the night and which I listened to on repeat as I wrote up this piece.

There was also a mighty arrangement of the Alison Krauss song The Lucky One with Tim on the dobro and Sophy Ball on violin. Sophy’s playing was extraordinary all night, and she put on a costume for her showstopper about a devil down in Georgia. Props also go to clarinet and sax player Fay Donaldson, who brought Ring of Fire and sundry other tunes to life. There was even a (toy) train whistle for Folsom Prison Blues.

Biddy Ronelle, whose energy could be bottled and sold as a tonic, was just as tremendous, especially on the surprisingly jaunty Golden Ring, which country fans will know is about the breakdown of a marriage symbolised in the title object. There was unbridled panache on Man! I Feel Like A Woman!, with Biddy’s performance taking in those two exclamation marks, and fine harmonies all night from the ladies especially on Country Roads.

The pair flapped their arms during Chicken Fried, the night’s most recent song from way back in 2008, and joined voices and forces on the band numbers Mountain Music, The Gambler, Achy Breaky Heart and The Cowboy Rides Away. The medley of tunes by outlaws – Merle, Waylon, Willie and JR Cash – was expertly done early in the first half, with Middi on lead vocals and the ladies chiming in with harmonies and accoutrements. They were sat stage left at an upturned beer keg, part of a smart set design which set the mood excellently.

The event website lists plenty of dates all around the UK right up to next November so if you see One Night in Texas listed in your area rush to it and be impressed at the breadth and depth of material offered up by Middi and the band. I expect a show over Valentine’s Weekend in Blackpool would be a good choice.

Country Jukebox Jury LP: Mitchell Tenpenny – This Is The Heavy

September 21, 2022

I don’t know if you look at the Hot 100 a lot, but something odd has happened recently and it involved country music. There were, for the chart dated September 17 2022, an absurd quotient of tunes made in Nashville dominating the US charts.

Unsurprisingly, Harry Styles was enjoying a thirteenth week at number one (three behind One Sweet Day, six behind Old Town Road). Morgan Wallen has two songs in the Top 20, while Luke Combs’ The Kind of Love We Make is a place ahead of Beyonce. Cole Swindell’s She Had Me At Heads Carolina is ahead of Doja Cat, and Tyler Hubbard, Jon Pardi, Zach Bryan, Bailey Zimmerman and Jelly Roll mix with Bad Bunny and Ed Sheeran.

In at 54 is Truth About You, the lead single from Mitchell Tenpenny’s new album in which our narrator threatens to tell people what really happened in response to his ex telling lies about him. The song has just hit number one on country radio which, yep, still exists in an era of streams and TikTok. So do albums, as Morgan Wallen has proved in the last 18 months by gaming the system with a 30-track album and a leaked video which proves all publicity is good publicity in Nashville (he’s CMA nominated).

Mitchell, who has been in Music City for years, has a rasping voice that matches the moment. In the last year alone he put out an eight-track mini-album and a Christmas record, so he’s been allowed to be prolific after the pandemic shutdown. This accounts for the 20 tracks (19 plus an intro, really) on this album, all written with Mitch in the room along with the typical A-List names and produced by Jordan Schmidt, who has been studying the sound of country music in 2022. Fun fact: Jordan is from Duluth, the Minnesota town which will forever be known as the home of Bob Dylan.

Ashley Gorley does add his stardust to the rapid-fire love song Always Something With You, while Jesse Frasure turns up in the room for the happy-sad Miss You Cause I’m Drinking (‘I ain’t drinkin’ cos I miss you…’). The father-and-son team of Rodney and Brad Clawson joined him for Sleeping Alone, which provides a novel way of asking if someone is still single (with their ‘sweatpants on’). The Warren Brothers Brad and Brett helped him on the closing track That’s How She Goes, which has the album’s most interesting bridge.

Devin Dawson, Seth Ennis, Chris DeStefano and Laura Veltz are there too, as are the sibilant producers of the new Breland album Sean Small and Sam Sumser, who help out on Elephant In The Room. The track features pop vocalist Teddy Swims and sounds completely inorganic and ‘in the box’, which is what happens when Nashville tries to be like Los Angeles.

Bucket List first appeared on the 2021 mini-album Midtown Diaries. It’s a carpe diem song in which Mitchell promises to ‘cross one off, put two more on it’ and make life better without thinking of the ‘what ifs’. Good Place has our narrator singing of being ‘a midtown mess’ while a dull, MOR track buzzes behind him. There’s a swear word in the chorus of More Than Whiskey Does which is completely at odds with the safe production, while Mitchell offers his shoulder on Cry Baby, which is almost offensive in its dullness.

As you’d expect from an album targeted at young adults between 18 and 34, there’s plenty here about matters of the heart. We Got History (‘I know we don’t have a future any more’) is a fun spin on a mournful track about an ex, who elsewhere is Happy and I Hate It, says Mitchell. Do You is a triple-time tune where our narrator namechecks The Lumineers while bemoaning the nature of love.

Lululemon gets a plug (and hopefully Mitchell’s wife got some stock) on the snaptracky Still Thinking ‘Bout You. There’s a song of fidelity called Long As You Let Me which drowns any sentiment in production gloop. Obsession has some massive guitars to underline how Mitchell has fallen in love with a new lady, while Now We’re Talking is a smooth meet-cute with a strong melody that hints at ‘doing more than talking tonight’.

There is even a song about a dive bar called Losers which ‘made a winner’ out of our protagonist. Perhaps this album will be heard in Lower Broadway’s bachelorette party places. I understand that the production is there to appeal to pop audiences, but I would suggest Mitchell records these songs with just guitar and voice, as there is plenty of decent songwriting here buried under mounds of studio wizardry.

I doubt any listener will put the whole album on in one sitting, which explains its sonic homogeneity: tracks merge into one another, with lyrical tropes (drinking, heartbreak) popping up on most songs. It is Functional Country, the sort that Jason Aldean pioneered. It sounds like commercial country made in Music Row.

Country Jukebox Jury LPs: Ingrid Andress and Hollie Rogers

September 20, 2022

Ingrid Andress – Good Person

Nashville loves to mimic what New York and Los Angeles are doing. When casting around town a few years ago for someone who could play piano and sing ballads like Julia Michaels or Billie Eilish, they alit upon Michigan-born Berklee School of Music graduate Ingrid Andress. Lady Like was a fine song, as was her number one smash More Hearts Than Mine, which has led to a follow-up album which she has co-produced with her key collaborator Sam Ellis.

Sam has worked with Thomas Rhett, Kane Brown and Lady A so he knows how to tread the line between pop and country. Ingrid has found a place on country radio with her Sam Hunt collaboration Wishful Drinking, which is basically a rewrite of Meant To Be. That song is tacked on to the end of the album, which is made up of 12 pop songs which Nashville is selling as country music.

Priscilla Block’s main collaborator Steph Jones co-wrote the title track, which opens the album. We hear Ingrid harmonising with herself in a manner that has been all over LA and NYC pop for the last few years. ‘I pray for the ones that I love every night’ lays bare a narrator who is struggling with morality, much the same as Cody Johnson was on the title track of his album Human. Lose the harmoniser and add some pedal steel and this is country music.

Other songs can soundtrack people in love, as pop music has done for decades. ‘I love that we forgive but hate that we forget’ is a good lyric on Talk, where the harmoniser returns. How Honest Do You Want Me To Be (yep, the harmoniser is here too) begins with Ingrid singing about ‘drinking too much’ and threatening to say how she really feels. Falling For You looks to the future, hoping that love doesn’t fade like colours on a t-shirt, while All The Love is anchored by a pretty melody and another acoustic guitar loop.

Shane McAnally was in the room for two songs, one of which may well be the song of the year. Yearbook, which I’m led to believe is about Ingrid’s parents, flips the familiar motif outlined in songs like Luke Combs’ Refrigerator Door or Pictures by Lady A to tell the tale of a couple who are still together despite only being ‘on the same page’ back when they were teenagers. It’s a proper country song that only Nashville writers’ rooms (and, indeed, the superlative Shane McAnally) can tell.

Blue is the other McAnally co-write, packed full of imagery that riff on the titular colour. Ingrid adds some light keyboard to the track, which she will surely dedicate to blue-eyed crowd members. Shane’s fellow A-Lister Jesse Frasure was there for the smart Seeing Someone Else (‘you’re seeing who I used to be’), one of those pop-country tunes driven by an acoustic guitar part and a snarling narrator who unfurls her story in a hurry. In fact, it sounds like a Julia Michaels song, which is handy as the pop writer was with Ingrid and Sam for Feel Like This, a pure, unabashed love song with a lyric that skips in part. It would work on pop radio.

Liz Rose helped Ingrid tell the story of No Choice, a grown-up torch song about falling out of love. ‘A ship without an anchor’s gonna float away’ is another great lyric, and the narrator is full of self-doubt. The twist in the chorus – ‘I left you because you left me no choice’ – is pure Nashville, while the dusting of staccato strings is very LA. As for the character in the vocal and her sigh before the final chorus, it’s Broadway.

Is it country music? It is if Ingrid says it is. Lady A tread the same line and it makes sense that Laura Veltz, who wrote the pair of Lady A tunes What I’m Leaving For and What If I Never Get Over You with Sam, was drafted in for the triple-time tune Pain, which includes some keening pedal steel to underscore a great lyric and vocal, as Ingrid drags some syllables out for multiple beats.

On Things That Haven’t Happened Yet, Ingrid mentions her age. It’s 29, the same age Carly Pearce was on her recent album. It’s boring to compare female acts but it is an obvious comparison to note that Carly is going down the country-pop path while Ingrid is doing pop-country, if you see what I mean. There is room for both kinds of music in Nashville, and Keith Urban fans will be warmed up with a set from Ingrid before their guitar hero wanders on to play his rocking country music.

Country-adjacent, we should call it. 

Hollie Rogers – Criminal Heart

So is Hollie Rogers, one of the smart bookings at the recent British Country Music Festival, which I reviewed here.

During one of her two performances, she caught her hand and drew blood, such was her enthusiasm. She was previewing songs from this album, which is an example of British country thanks to its storytelling.

Hollie has Kezia Gill’s gift for pop melodies and a voice like that of Elles Bailey or, in places, of Tracy Chapman. British country will receive her warmly, as it welcomes more folk from Cornwall (Bailey Tomkinson is a key figure down there). Indeed The Coast Road is a gorgeous song in honour of her home county, ‘not a care, not a thought, just the view’. There’s also a version where she sings the chorus in Cornish which is worth tracking down.

The title track is a brilliant way to begin the album, with its immaculate pop chorus and a fine vocal. At TBCMF, Hollie also performed the funky blues number Strange, which eventually made the point that her husband loves her a lot. She played the tracks Love and Sinner as well, the former counselling that ‘love ain’t always ribbons and gold’ and the latter a lightly jazzy tune of a femme fatale.

Bring Me Some Peace and Girl on a Mission are the type of Adult Contemporary country song that Gary Quinn writes: on the former, therapy and reminiscin’ are high on Hollie’s agenda but ‘still I’m incomplete’; the latter has a string section to underscore a lyric full of determination and heart (‘I believe in us’). One Last Time can also be bracketed in the AC Country genre, with the arrangement matching a lyric which mentions ‘putting out the fire’ and a plaintive plea: ‘Don’t turn me down or fade me out’.

Youth is the album’s seven-minute centrepiece, full of open-throated vocals and a message to seize the day. The final two minutes are full of vocalisations and guitar wigouts, and it ends the album’s first side in a very anthemic manner. Guest vocalist Jamie Lawson appears on the melancholic track Love and Distance, which kicks off the second side.

The Man You Had To Be, assisted by a resonant cello part, and her tribute to London called City of Colour both show Hollie to be a fine songwriter who is respected within the music industry. She needs commercial success as well, whether as a UK country act or as a singer/songwriter whose music crosses any boundary.

Country Jukebox Jury LPs: Andrew Combs and Steve Moakler

September 18, 2022

Andrew Combs – Sundays

Andrew Combs played the main stage at C2C back in 2016 and was in the UK for a week of UK dates including The Long Road and The Grace in Islington. He was promoting his fifth album and cherrypicking songs from his other four, two of which came out in 2019. He announced Sundays with a frank message on his Facebook page which began: ‘Chaos is the norm these days. But what comes from chaos?’

Now signed to Loose Music but essentially an independent musician, every review of Sundays is thus clouded by a revelation that he had a nervous breakdown, brought on by anxiety and depression, last year. The opening track is called (God)less, which sets the downbeat mood of the album.

Andrew has chosen to have a snare hit running through every track on the album, with no cymbal crashes or frills, so that people can focus on the melodies and words. That’s not to say the arrangements aren’t without merit. A saxophone parps halfway through the gentle Mark of the Man, one of the tracks on which Andrew’s voice soars into the upper register. The brass comes back on Down Among The Dead and there is a cathartic guitar solo on Drivel to a Dream.

Still Water (‘you see what you want to see’) has a triangle or cymbal twinkling in harmony with a lo-fi arrangement of bass and snare drum. If Andrew turned up the guitar this could be a power-pop number, but he has been deliberate in setting the lyric to a quiet piece of music.

Adeline, with its sweet yet forlorn chorus, is gorgeous. Truth and Love sounds like a mid-period Radiohead track, with a liquid guitar line and Andrew’s lyric mentioning shady places and being ‘tarred and feathered’. Closing track Shall We Go is a cappella besides a droned harmonium sound.

This is an album that will grow in stature every time you listen, and it demands active rather than passive listening. It is completely out of time with the current moment, which makes it all the more stark. Good on Loose Music for backing Andrew to do his own thing in his own way. From chaos comes order, it seems, or a semblance of it.

Steve Moakler – Make A Little Room

On the other hand, Steve Moakler has no such qualms. A staff writer for Creative Nation, which was set up his fellow songwriter Luke Laird, Steve wrote Riser for Dierks Bentley and Angel Singin’ for Reba. He knows the system and wants no part of it when it comes to putting his own music out there. Thomas Rhett gifted him the song Suitcase, which was the first thing I heard of Steve’s way back in the mid-2010s and which came from an impressive album Steel Town.

Since then he has released three more albums, the most recent coming in August 2022. Make A Little Room is full of songs written during the past two years where he enjoyed more time than he had planned with his newborn son (and there’s a second on the way). Steve takes his music directly to fans when he goes on road trips, getting to know the people who connect with his tunes.

Dan Wharton has already called it ‘the best album by some distance’ which he has heard this year, so who am I to doubt Dan’s excellent opinion? For a start it’s 33 minutes long so it can’t outstay its welcome. As with many staff songwriters, especially Ryan Hurd whose voice hits the same timbre as Steve’s, the voice serves the song and doesn’t burden it with curlicues or melisma.

The title track opens the album, with a computerised track underscoring a carpe diem lyric full of imagery and character. ‘Turn the TV off!’ Steve suggests, ‘put a little more space between livin’ and dyin’. You Being You is a sweet song to his son: ‘Life’s a wild ride…Chase all of your dreams’ is his advice, and dad’s voice threatens to crack in the final chorus.

Pack It Up takes the theme of moving house (well done to Steve for getting ‘dust bunnies’ into the lyric) and extends it to kids running around the yard. Tennessee Girl is a fine love song with plenty of cities and songtitles namechecked, while Steve puts his life in a song on Northerner (‘chasing Southern song’). The title is a very good word to sing because Steve can hold the first syllable over several notes of the bar.

Steve is helped by some A-List buddies. Barry Dean and the aforementioned Luke Laird were in the (zoom) room for Let’s Go to the Lake, which begins with the line ‘everybody’s got their poison’. Steve’s is to get in touch with nature and ‘drift away’. Autumn Came Back, a song about the end of a summer love, features vocals and piano from its co-writer Lucie Silvas. The melody is tremendous and I hope the song finds an audience. Drummer Neil Mason from The Cadillac Three co-wrote Start A Band, an ode to the road; you can tell Neil is a drummer because there’s a stomp on every crotchet.

Better Days is a lovely tune with a deceptively bleak lyric that taps into the current era: ‘Been losing ground but we can’t lose faith’ is almost a protest lyric. Closing track Numbered has an end credits feel and lists things you can count: candles, beer, the time it takes between seeing lightning and hearing thunder. As with Andrew Combs’ record, this is an album to dip yourself into, which comes from the pen of a seasoned writer/performer.

Country Jukebox Jury LPs: Pat Green and Bri Bagwell

September 17, 2022

Pat Green – Miles and Miles of You

Still principally known for hits on the country charts 20 years ago like the GRAMMY-nominated Wave on Wave, Pat Green is now a staunchly independent Texan act who can afford, as here, to take seven years between albums while selling out shows across the state. He turned 50 earlier this year, which puts him in the same age bracket as Keith Urban and Kenny Chesney. His voice comes off more as Lee Brice or Randy Houser, or even Cody Johnson to make it more Texas-specific.

I actually leaned back in my chair in comfort when the opening guitar chords of I’m Going Home emerged. In a thick Texan accent and with some magical diminished chords, Pat sings of trainwrecks, horizons and ‘the day that saves me’. The arrangement is euphoric with a thonking great backbeat anchoring the song.

The title track is more reflective, with ‘endless fields of green’ and rivers setting the scene as Pat drives. It might well be a song in memoriam to somebody close to Pat, or a hometown, but it’s vague enough to stand for anything. Glen Campbell sets Pat reminiscin’ on the album’s closing track Echo, a track which also mixes nature and human contact.

Pat celebrated his half-century this spring and April 5th (his birthday) is full of reminiscences and honky-tonk piano. The gang vocals are great too. Bad Bones (‘hurricane is coming’) is a confident love song led by a swampy guitar part which goes heavy on the wah-wah to match the organ part. I can imagine this running to several minutes in the live sphere and the song fades out tantalisingly! Pat would not have been allowed to do this in 2004, and is all the better for doing so today.

Some of this album has the feel of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, thanks to major-key arrangements and pensive lyrics. If I Don’t Have a Honky Tonk (‘my soul’s been saved!!’) is the current single at Texas radio. It will go down well live when Pat plays such establishments. Build You A Bar sounds like a hit, with a brilliant melody and a lyric that fills in the bar as the verses go along. Abby Anderson, another act who has had her brush with Music City, joins Pat on the singalong All In This Together, where Pat sings of the ‘ecstasy of agony…when the pain is more you can take, that’s when you know you’re alive’. It’ll help plenty of listeners get through trouble in their lives.

This Old Hat takes the familiar motif of describing an object (ekphrasis is the term) to spark off memories and wisdom about life. Steady, a love song which begins ‘her daddy never liked me much’, is another proper songwriter’s tune that would suit any guitar pull. There is fiddle running through the song too.

The risk is that an album like this, which is magnificent, will not find an audience because it lacks a push from the sort of marketing team who helped Pat’s label make money off him in the post-Garth era. As country music remembers that period of history, it should make room for Pat Green. Not that Pat cares if people remember him or not, because he’s got his loyal audience who will go wild for one of the best Red Dirt records of the decade so far.

Bri Bagwell – Corazon y Cabeza

Some radio shows, such as the one on Arc Radio at 4pm on Sundays (repeated 9pm Tuesdays), try to serve up a mix of acts from Texas and Oklahoma. Bri Bagwell is one of those names which always pops up on radio playlists; her new song Trenches kicks off an album with a Spanish title meaning ‘Heart and Head’. It should be noted that a woman called Rachel Loy is the producer of this album.

Hello Highway (‘I wonder why I wander’) is one of those troubadour songs that is natural for someone growing up in Texas to write. Cowboy Cold sounds lush thanks to a fine pedal steel running through the song. Free Man chugs along prettily and Bri adds some verses that a poorer critic than I would call sassy or confident. Texan is a better word, and Bri works in the tradition of her forebears, particularly the peerless Miranda Lambert.

Josefina, about a barmaid and her helicoptering husband, begins with a few bars of Mexican guitar to set the mood. Songs like this are definitely written on Music Row but they’re relegated to album tracks. The Dust (‘wherever we go, vaya conmigo’) is a marvellous waltz that they can only really do in Texas where Latin and American go hand in hand through the sort of windstorms mentioned in the chorus and mimicked by the pedal steel.

Til I Can Let You Go is sung to a wine glass (‘I need you to help me not to think’) and reminds me of Mickey Guyton, whose voice Bri matches here. Mickey could also have written Sarah, a song which hooks the listener from the first line (‘he puts you through hell’). It turns out Bri has experienced the same sort of mistreatment from a guy and tells Sarah that she (and indeed every woman listening) deserves a man who treats her well.

Table Manners, with bass and drums dominant, has the album’s most triumphant chorus, while Happy New Year has a request for rent buried in the second verse. The pedal steel solo smartly interpolates Auld Lang Syne but is at odds with the self-critical lyric.

The album ends with a ballad. Old Together sounds like a stream of consciousness, as if Bri is spilling her soul to her beloved ‘in case we don’t grow old together’. Again the pedal steel works its magic and Bri’s Texas Regional Radio Music Award-winning voice, which I don’t think I’ve praised enough, is clear and high in the mix.

Bri had the 2020 TRRMA Single of the Year and may well win it next year with any of these 11 superlative tunes. A sixth Vocalist of the Year award is more or less guaranteed. Let’s hope more people outside Texas can hear her fifth album and she becomes an international star as well as a star of the Red Dirt firmament.